ARE YOU MENTALLY FIT?
by C.C. Campbell-Rock
If there is any good to be found in the coronavirus pandemic sweeping America, it is that the lack of access to healthcare has emerged as a civil rights issue and calls for routine mental health treatment are getting louder. Many African Americans need access to local mental health providers.
Health experts are advocating for mental health therapy for essential workers; particularly healthcare workers who are working long stretches of time, without breaks, and are experiencing the trauma of witnessing an out-of-control number of deaths and worrying about taking the virus home to their families.
Recent reports that blacks, indigenous and other people of color are three times as likely to get the coronavirus is a red flag that should not be ignored. In addition to the physical harm the virus causes, African-Americans have to deal with the same extraordinary challenges they faced pre-COVID-19: double-digit unemployment rates, poverty wages, unequal pay, and inadequate schools.
REAL DISPARITIES PERSIST
Add to those obstacles, food deserts, the wealth gap, housing insecurities, redlining, police brutality, and other manifestations of structural racism, and, even without COVID-19, the black community must struggle with a toxic brew that can make even the strongest African-Americans physically and mentally unstable.
Traditionally, African Americans have shied away from seeking mental health services and counseling because of a fear of being called ‘crazy’; but it may be time to abandon that type of thinking and have a mental health wellness check-up.
Back in the day, African-Americans turned to black music for therapy.
In “Only the strong survive,” Jerry Butler sings about his mother’s advice. Although she counseled him on handling a failed love affair, her message was about being mentally strong and overcoming depression.
The black community’s music history is full of black artists who offer such sage advice; especially rhythm and blues, jazz, and blues vocalists, who told stories about the black condition and offered coping skills and suggestions for handling adversity.
What these artists knew and what is still true today is that the black community has and will continue to face extraordinary challenges that threatened both their physical and mental well-being. African Americans need mental healthcare.
Given the challenges facing African Americans, e.g., structural racism, the traditional practice of western psychology, which focuses on individualism, white mental health practitioners may not provide the type of mental health services that therapists who have shared life experiences can provide.
“I am so happy that there is some discussion that names racism as a public health crisis. A long time ago, we were manipulated and gaslit to believe it doesn’t exist. But we all going through an awakening of what’s going on around us,” says Nana Fofie Amina Bashir, a clinical psychologist and expressive arts therapist.
“Shared experience is so much a part of why it’s important to have black therapists and a system’s perspective on the history of trauma, generational trauma, systemic racism, and violence. It’s important to understand who we are engaging in our individual and systemic trauma therapeutics. Many African Americans need mental healthcare.
NEW ORLEANS BASED HELP
Bashir is the director of the Institute for Ashé Movement (IAM), a healing arts center based at Xavier University. IAM provides affirming, strengths-based, and culturally resonant mental health and community support services for individuals, partners/couples, families, and groups in the greater New Orleans area.
Clinical therapies are provided for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress management, and general wellness goals. Also family and relational issues, life strategy & visioning, coping skills, grief and loss , personality “disorders,” and spirituality help is available. These therapies can be accessed as stand-alone services, or with the Ashé Pantheon – IAM’s signature therapeutic dance program. Services are free or on a sliding scale fee schedule.
IAM serves adults, adolescents, children, elders Queer/Trans/Nonbinary/LGBTQ+ people, partners, families, students, activists/organizers, practitioners, and artists.
“It’s important to call upon our arts, dancing, drumming. It’s important that we highlight and affirm our cultural art heritage,” Bashir adds, “and it’s important that we understand that we have historically had systemic problems and come to an understanding,” of how these issues impact mental health. Many African Americans need mental healthcare.
CULTURAL & QUALITY CARE
Dr. Marshall Mkononi Lee, the founder of IAM, is a clinical psychologist, Yoruba Priest., and practitioner in the African-Indigenous Healing Movement. Lee taught psychology at the University of Michigan, City College of New York, Long Island University, Rutgers University, and both Xavier University and Tulane University. Dr Lee established the IAM at Xavier University two years ago.
IAM is currently open for mental health treatments, with social distancing. IAM also offers private, teletherapy online, but the dance program is temporarily suspended. The organization is in the process of coordinating a Virtual Katrina event to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“Fifteen years in, we’re still traumatized,” the psychologist explains. “Gentrification, loss of property, the trauma is palpable. The wounds have not been allowed to heal. People are still in prison today because the police went crazy arresting people. There is still no actual truth around the man-made disaster of Katrina. African-American students have had to come back to New Orleans and not find the teachers they had in schools.”
Bashir also spoke about a mental health issue that most African-Americans have but may not recognize. African-Americans have been exposed to the same images, same racial animus, and the same racial resentment as Euro-Americans and have internalized these attitudes. “We have to come to terms with our own internalized racism. We need to pull back those layers,” she says.
“They (whites) are quick to say black on black crime,” when the subject of police killings of unarmed black people arises,” but, “we need to talk about poverty, plus internalized racism, and communities stripped of resources, the schools, over-criminalization, mass incarceration, there’s no difference in what causes black on black crime, they keep setting us up for failure.”
In New Orleans, Bashir says, “We need to address ongoing violence in the streets and the effects of Katrina. We’re dealing with systemic racism and violence, veterans disproportionately homeless, school children’s recreation, and the barriers facing our African-American students who are coming to colleges.”
To contact IAM visit their website at https://iamashemovement.org/ or call (504)484-9824.